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The Secret Behind Eyelash Growth and Sunscreen's Dark Side

By: Rebecca James Gadberry
Posted: June 11, 2008, from the November 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Q. There’s a new growth hormone on the market that supposedly grows eyelashes. What is this ingredient? Does it really work?

A. Renewed lash growth, density and pigmentation have been identified as side effects of several drugs commonly used to treat glaucoma. This effect—known as hypertrichosis—first was described in 1997 in association with the drug latanoprost.1 Since then, more reports have surfaced and similar results have been reported for two other glaucoma drugs, as well—travoprost and bimatoprost. All three are members of the prostaglandin family, which is a group of hormonelike lipid compounds associated with inflammation processes throughout the body.

The effects seen with these drugs may be normal body responses to mild inflammatory agents. During this response, keratinocytes can proliferate, or generate more of the substances that they produce in order to protect the skin or eyes. In the case of the lash-producing keratinocytes lining the eyelids, the rest cycle of the hair follicle—known as telogen—can be shortened, while the hair-growth cycle—known as anagen—is lengthened. This can result in longer, denser lashes that remain rooted in the lash bed for a more significant period than normal. Melanogenesis, the process that creates melanin pigments, also can increase, resulting in greater deposits of melanin in lashes as they are produced by the keratinocytes.

Placebo-controlled studies show that hair growth stimulated by lantanoprost—the most widely studied of the three drugs—occurs very early in the anagen phase.2-4 If lantanoprost use begins at the onset of anagen, results can be seen quickly—sometimes in as little as two to five days5—and can last 14 months or longer.6 The majority of people using lantanoprost will show hair growth after six months of its use, with women exhibiting greater results than men.7 Other studies of these drugs’ effects on lashes indicated that they can produce multiple rows of lashes, as well as a more marked lash curvature. In addition, lantanoprost has been reported to reverse lash alopecia.8-9

Curious researchers also have studied the drugs’ effects on hair growth for the brows and scalp. This research included people with various types of alopecia, or hair loss, with success ranging from no results to those described as remarkable. Even though studies about hair growth on the scalp may show promise, they are still in their infancy. No drugs in this family appear to be ready for the hair-growth market at this time.